Monday, 9 March 2015

Casteism - A Fresh and Objective Analysis

This is an analysis of casteism that seeks to challenge both narratives in vogue – one, that it is centuries old, and the other that it is recent. The reality, in my opinion, has to be different; what follows is my opinion based on my extensive reading on a variety of topics. Further, at no point is it my contention that the current system of casteism is defensible – it isn’t; it is an insult to humanity. And at no point is it my intention that people did not suffer; they did…


The ancient system was the Varnic system, which is completely different from casteism; varnas where the result of deeds, not vice-versa. Then came the commercial and political structures stated below, which existed for 1500 years minimum, leading to internal marriages, and the evolution of distinct identities due to a common gene pool caused by intermarriage. 

At this point and for some time afterwards, there was no hint of casteism. The slow degeneration started in only the 2nd millennium, with the rapid socio-political changes that shook India. This was added to by inbreeding, hereditary vocations, and increasing difficulty in moving outside your vocation. The literary record bears proof that earlier, it was possible for a shift; the same record also faithfully records increasing hardline tendencies over time, over a period of millennia. 

The caste system is, in some ways, also misunderstood and mixed up with the commercial and vocational guilds that were common across ancient India. This was a linked network of commercial interests based on cultural contacts, wherein it made sense to be culturally tied due to economic sense. A study of everything from commerce to financing of wars by merchants brings that out in detail, irrefutably. 

The landless labour did not exist before the British; that is a known fact. Commercial, busines guilds, work environment of the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries have been extensively documented that bear mute testimony to the truth. The caste system hardened into its current shape in the 19th century. EIC school records of the Indian system of education clearly show a caste-neutral participation among students, with all castes being equally represented.


A rudimentary mental math is enough to take raise some serious questions on the casteism myth, and that large populations were oppressed, at least in economic terms :  

Fact 1 : 121 Million Agricultural Land Holdings, NSS 2005 survey. 

Fact 2 : Between 65-75% of India is Backward + OBC + SC etc castes as per various current surveys. 

Fact 3 : Creation of Landless Labour - Dadabhai Naoroji, RC Dutt 1906, Durant 1930, Habib 2012 and others, tracing fall in productivity {earlier among the highest on the planet} indigo, non-payment of dues; rise in taxes to 50-80% of produce; destruction of primary secondary and tertiary markets; Institutionalisation and hardening of Ryotwari and Zamindary from its old form to the British form 

Fact 4 : Creation of jobless class, through closure of industrial units {we had every known manufacture in India, Fact}, leading to vast swathes of jobless skilled labourers 1800 - 1840 Habib et al 

Fact 5 : existence of commercial guilds and hereditary vocations spanning thousands of years, Romila Thapar 2005 {approx} et al; {Habib 2012}

Fact 6 : Destruction of sea trade routes through piracy by the English; loss of land trade routes due to political forces 1600-1700, leading to Merchant shipping, trade and commernce losses, losses to weavers and rural traders {Tope 2012 and others} 

121 Million, family size assumed 4 = nearly 500 Million agriculture-focussed population. Add the transient landless labour. {you can access MNREGA records for this} {Reality check current employment in agriculture @ 55-60% basis various economic data.} Now compare with data of backward castes in India; that makes around 45%. Backward : 41%, SC : approx 20%, others : 8% in one survey, which I regard as conservative. 

Put the two together. Reality stares at you. Most of the backward classes have to be in Agriculture currently {If 70% of the population is SC-ST-OBC, and 60% of population is in agriculture, the inference is straightforward}, although they are now spread across the land of India. The historical data clearly shows vitality of artisans, traders and agricultural classes, and their earnings. While it is true that by the turn of 14th-18th centuries, they would not have found it easy to move away from agriculture; they were earning and were better off than the current situation. 

The data, when you look at it from an economic critique, doesnt add up and support the hypotheses of centuries of oppression of the vast  majority of the population. It shows a people who were well-off, and not oppressed. Extensive economic and industrial data is available. The people were well off, both relatively speaking as well as on an absolute scale. True - it was exceptionally hard to break into an occupation from outside, and it worked both ways, but that does not mean they were hand-to-mouth. Further, it was increasingly also exceptionally hard to change vocations as socio-political changes rocked India in its long history – which was the biggest problem.

You cant have a fire without there being combustible material; same applies here. The Raj exploited existing faultlines and resulted in their becoming deeply entrenched. Genetic evidence states that inbreeding among castes is not a recent phenomenon, and has a founder event going back centuries - which is the most oft-quoted argument against my presentation above. 

The earlier casteism was softer, and did not acquire its present shape then. It was entrenched in a system of hereditary vocations, with relevant skills for each vocation being passed from generation to generation. This built deep intra-caste relationships and inter-caste dependencies, based not on oppression but on a workable and eminently but brutally efficient methodology, that rivals and beats any and every modern system with a modicum of ease. 

Sadly, over time, it meant that the system became unfair to the lowermost sections of society, who would have found it hard to grow beyond their vocations. It also meant that you had to toe the lines set by societal norms. Did this stifle innovation and entrench roodhivaad or rote? That is a tantalizing thought – it tallies perfectly with our fall in scientific knowledge from the second half of the second millennium. It also gives us a more precise timeline for the problem…

This is what ensured India's dominance for close on 9000 years - it built a system that was extraordinarily hard for anyone to break into. The proof of this is the presence of guilds that existed for centuries {Thapar, 2004/05 - will need to check precise year of her book}. Another proof comes in the writings of Sujan Rai from 1689 or 1696, who has described a flawless system of cash transfers that puts our modern IT hot-shots and western / eastern management geniuses to shame. {Habib, 2012} \

Blunt, Frank and Straight : The West or The Modern East has yet to design any system or theory or strategy that can rival this in terms of cost efficiency, effectiveness & perfection. It was exceptional, and impossible for an outsider to crack into. Evidence of this can still be seen in Modern India - with each vocation being dominated by a specific set of people.

It was this system that created the conditions for disaster, but that is not fully relevant here. What is relevant is that there was differentiation that was systemically entrenched, while not strictly oppressive. Adding slow fuel to the fire was the increasing gap between the wealthy and the others. The financing of 1857 was bankrolled by Merchants across India {Tope 2012}. This gives us a hint to both the power structure, as well as the gap in earnings. While this was between 1845-1854 {yes, the war was planned for years}, the existence of such a set of dependencies tell us that this was not a recent phenomenon. 

While people were well off {extrapolated from Habib 2012}, it is a foregone conclusion that this earnings gap would have led to a rising feeling of discontent with the existing order. The proof of this is the simple fact that what was looted from India was massive... it would not be an exaggeration to state today that every single brick in the USA and the UK has been funded by India, especially if you calculate NPV of the proceeds of the loot. I did in a rudimentary fashion... at 8% it calculates to 473 Trillion Dollars just from available numbers of a few years. {Numbers sourced from Mukherjee-2011, RC Dutt-1906, Durant-1930} 

{This calculation cannot be definitive, of course - available inflationary trends fluctuate wildly from 2-17% for the period; and it is in addition hard to calculate over such a long period - but we cannot forget that the looted money was used to build the same facilities and amenities that people now enjoy in The West, esp USA - UK.} 

What is relevant is that this tells us the difference between the everyday person and the leaders. That is one. Two, the increasingly entrenched specialisation was good for every layer of society- but the menial labour at the bottom, while not oppressed, would have found it hard to get into specialised vocations, agriculture apart. {In percentage terms, it stands to reason that they cant have been 70% of population; but again – that is no defence. 1 or 1million, differential treatment is differential treatment} 

Agriculture also slowly, over time, developed into a super-specialised vocation, creating its own ecosystem of interdependencies. This created a system that was exceptionally resilient, and hard – with each layer hopelessly intertwined with the others, creating a system of interdependencies that was virtually unassailable – while also having the potential to collapse with the right crack. 

The collapse of the prevalent socio-economic structure {Habib, Dutt, Naoroji, Tope, Mukherjee, Verma, Misra, Mishra} caused the entire system to come apart...  That is why I presented the modern scenario in agriculture to drive home the point that the current hyper-one-sided narrative of centuries of oppression that is so prevalent in The West is nonsense. Add to this the Raj tactics, which led to people trying to curry favour for benefits, leading to a stampede into social disaster – as, for the first time, it was a political intervention that was strengthening the already present fault-lines, and deepening them.  

The proof is again provided by Tope-2012, in endnotes and annotations - school enrollment was caste neutral, meaning there was no rigidity in attending school or inequality in the sense of the late 19th century. These numbers were from the 18th century, and provide an irrefutable rebuttal to the centuries of oppression theory.

To summarise, there were internal issues and faultlines in our societal structure, which did not change fast enough. In the altered political atmosphere of The Raj, these were brought to the fore very quickly, and became entrenched. 

I have tried to present a rational and objective critique based on solid evidence spanning economic, social as well as psychological factors; hope this makes sense. I may of course be wrong; that I readily admit. But this is the point at which my study is as of now. References provided in brackets, but not limited to these; there are other books as well, like Maria Misra's work, or Pavan Verma or others which also gave me clues…  This is a continuing study for me, for frankly, no modern theory makes sense or explains all questions. Not to my mind. 

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